FC BATE Borisov and FC Zenit St. Petersburg come face to face in Minsk on Wednesday aware that they are playing for their UEFA Champions League Group H lives, even if both coaches struck upbeat notes.
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FC BATE Borisov and FC Zenit St. Petersburg come face to face in Minsk on Wednesday all too aware that they are already playing for their UEFA Champions League Group H lives.
A 1-1 draw in Russia two weeks ago kept these sides winless at the foot of Group H, with BATE four points adrift of second-placed Real Madrid CF and Zenit five behind. Zenit had the better of the game but needed a late Fatih Tekke equaliser to claim their first-ever UEFA Champions League point. BATE go into the return match in high spirits having clinched their third straight Belarussian title on Friday, beating FC Torpedo Zhodino 2-1.
Gennadi Bliznyuk scored his chart-topping 16th goal of the season in that victory while Vitali Rodionov took his tally to 14. Neither has registered in the UEFA Champions League since the 2-2 second qualifying round draw with RSC Anderlecht in August, however, although Rodionov has promised "to break the tradition and start scoring in Europe as well".
Coach takes time
While Viktor Goncharenko has a doubt about midfielder Aleksandr Volodko, substituted with an ankle problem against Torpedo Zhodino, the 31-year-old BATE coach said Volodko was "60 per cent fit on Monday, 80 per cent fit on Tuesday". He went on to say: "We have studied the opposition very closely, but that doesn't mean I could easily tell you the Zenit starting lineup as they may make some alterations. I still have time to evaluate my players' fitness, to speak with them, and to look into their eyes." Goncharenko, who has pledged to stay with BATE for 2009, remains without Aleksandr Ermakovich because of a knee injury suffered in August, although the midfielder – two years his coach's senior – could appear later in the group stage.
Zenit also have one long-term injury victim, with defender Nicolas Lombaerts having been sidelined since February with a knee problem. Otherwise they are at full strength and returned to winning ways with Saturday's narrow 1-0 success against FC Khimki, which ended a run of four consecutive draws. That sequence includes the sharing of the spoils with BATE in St Petersburg, yet Dick Advocaat is not planning major changes to Zenit's approach. "We knew what we had to do a fortnight ago and we know what we have to do on Wednesday," said the coach. "If we create the same number of opportunities, I will be happy."
While BATE retained their league crown at the weekend, Zenit officially lost theirs to FC Rubin Kazan. However, just like Goncharenko, Advocaat has pledged his future to his club and is keen to ensure he will have a European campaign to oversee next spring, at least in the UEFA Cup. "This will be a key game for both sides," the 61-year-old said. "The losing team are probably out." Goncharenko is less severe: "As soon as we start to set ourselves goals, things will become much harder. We would feel extra pressure. That is why we eased into our preparations and are not thinking about the group situation."